(click to enlarge photos)
Published in The Seattle Times online on Oct. 27, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Oct. 30, 2022
As young vampires, ghouls and superheroes prowl our neighborhoods cadging for candy this Halloween, actual monsters roam the deeps — and the shallows.
Hideously transmogrified, they struggle upstream past the banks of Pacific Northwest lakes, rivers and streams in an intricate and terrifying water ballet.
While on the hunt for ghost stories suitable for this shivery season, I thumbed through regional reports of the supernatural, from a haunted Georgetown mansion to the spooky lower level of the Pike Place Market, but each tale seemed more trick than treat.
But I caught a break investigating a potential “Then” photo at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery when serendipity inspired a question.
“Know any scary stories about fish?” I asked hatchery specialist J.J. Swennumson.
“Soos Creek Hatchery,” J.J. said, referencing an Auburn facility. “That place was super freaky.”
Mysterious, dead-of-night music and an apparition named Homer made regular appearances. After the hatchery’s eerie old building was replaced, however, the spooks fell silent.
“But,” J.J. added impishly with a twinkle, “we’ve got zombies.”
Out of dozens of state, federal and tribal hatcheries, Issaquah with 250,000 annual visitors is our state’s most popular. Built in 1936 by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, the facility aimed to restore historic salmon runs to Issaquah Creek, devastated by decades of coal mining and logging.
The hatchery’s first salmon stock, borrowed from nearby Green River, was released into the creek to general rejoicing, followed by decades of activity.
We’ll get to J.J.’s zombies, but if you have forgotten your salmonid factoids, here’s a quick refresher:
For at least two million years, Pacific salmon have flourished in our cold mountain rivers and streams. From freshwater spawning beds, hatchlings eventually head downstream to the ocean where, after several years of feeding and growth, they chart a course for home.
In what marine biologists describe as one of nature’s most remarkable mysteries, migrating salmon take cues from the Earth’s geomagnetic field to traverse thousands of miles of saltwater and arrive at their natal river’s mouth. Upon entering fresh water, a sense of smell thousands of times more sensitive than a bloodhound’s guides the fish to their original spawning grounds.
With the change in salinity, however, they stop feeding entirely. Their once-sleek silver bodies alter color and shape as their internal organs, save those charged with reproduction, begin to fail.
Battered, scarred, scarcely alive, these “zombie” salmon finally arrive home to spawn a next generation. But their contribution doesn’t end there. Their decaying bodies, strewn along riverbanks, provide autumnal protein for wildlife and nitrogen-rich fertilizer for surrounding trees.
In other words, tricks and treats!
A few more photos of the hatchery and Issaquah creek below. Also, check out our 360 video featuring a visit to the hatchery.